Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Similar is the case with money. Too much of it, too soon and this kind of thing - just waiting to happen.
Last Friday the Juhu police picked up 6 teens from the 'J Boyz' gang for spraying graffiti on a car. Nothing artistic about it, these kids were just marking their 'territory' with the trademark 'J Boys' signature.
Apparently this has been going on for some months. Several cars have have been vandalised, and so have the walls of building compounds.
Indian Express reports: “For the past two months, we have been receiving complaints from local residents about graffiti being painted on the walls of their buildings and on their cars. Sometimes the windows of the cars are also smashed. The culprits sign off as A-1, J-Boys, RB (Rule Breakers) and so on, which are the names of their gangs. Most of them are still in school or college, and are from well-to-do families,” says Senior Police Inspector Pradeep Shinde of the Juhu Police station.
“These boys leave home around 2:30 am, and drive around in their cars. They get high on beer and start damaging property. When we question them, they say they did it just for the craze and thrill of the act".
38 boys had been rounded up on Feb 24. But complaints continued. And so the saga may have stretched on, if not for simple bad luck. The J Boys happened to spray the official car of minister of state Baba Siddiqui.
Minister saab must have barked,"Pakdo saalon ko" and it did not take long to catch the fellas red-handed.
Anyhow, the boys were let off after being lectured and paying a very small fine. 15 year old Jackie 'Soda' Thakkar told the TOI,"It all started 6 months ago. We were bored, but we have now realised our mistake. It will not happen again."
His mother added that her son was misled into joining his friends 'because he had a car and knew how to drive'. The boys were apparently in the Thakkar family car when they were caught spraying the graffiti. It was 2.30 am.
This was a month after Jackie's mother received a call on her son's cellphone from a policeman. Members of a 'rival gang' (A1) had tipped off the police after they were rounded up for spraying cars.
Mrs Thakkar stated to the TOI: "I told them Jackie was at home and could not have been involved. Before the phone call, I'd never known about these graffiti gangs."
Okay - but how come a 15 year old was out on the loose after she got to know about it? And why is he allowed to take out the family car in the first place?
The blame game
The saving grace of the entire incident is that these boys only used aerosol cans. No knives or guns. But boredom is a hungry animal. Easily satiated. The 'gangs' had already progress to small acts of violence like smashing windshields of cars.
Yes, these are not hardened criminals. But why are they attracted to this kind of stuff in the first place? One father accepts the impact of what the kids have done and says he will work on 'channelising their energy in a positive direction'.
But I think his assessment of the situation is somewhat blinkered."They are all good kids", he states."But unlike our times, there are no open spaces to play. So, you find them cooped up in coffee shops. These issues should be addressed."
The issue that needs to be addressed is simple: stop giving them so much cash that they can hang around in coffee shops and blow a hundred bucks a day. If that's the kind of lifestyle they want, let them earn it!
The Indian parents' plaintive "I want my child to have everything I did not' approach is at least partly to blame. Their other constant refrain is: 'I want what's best for my child'.
Now these two wants are not necessarily mutually compatible. An 'everything I want I get from dad' upbringing leaves nothing to strive for. Nothing to 'achieve'. It all comes to you so easily, ab bacha hi kya?
Yes, young people have a lot of nervous energy. They want to conquer the world. The middle class teen channelises the energy into studies - he has no option. Na daddy ka koi business hai, na jaydaad. So the 14-17 period is spent in swotting over board exams and entrance exams.
That produces its own ill-effects and stress (another issue for another day!) but leaves little time or inclination towards graffiti and vandalism. No such gangs in Matunga, Chembur or Bhandup. All the action is in Lokhandwala, Versova, Bandra - the 'new money' suburbs.
J Boyz, A1, RB, YWA (Youth Warriors Association) - whatever name you like - lead a life with less emphasis on academic achievement. In the long run they will probably attend decent colleges, but riding on their parents' money. Australia, NZ, UK, America - choices are aplenty - if you have a chequebook to match.
That leaves them with a lot of spare time and nothing much to do. And too much spare cash to go with it. I'm all for a reasonable amount of pocket money. But not giving an under 18 an add-on credit card (many such examples! one company even pushed such a product to parents not long ago). Giving access to your car keys and not caring where they are at 2 in the morning? Definitely courting disaster.
Some of the parents have said they will take their kids for counselling. That's good, but I hope the entire family does some amount of introspection.
Secondly, don't jail these boys but a heavier fine needs to be levied. Rs 1000 is what a J Boy might easily spend in a single day. Usey fark hi nahin padega. Additionally, punishment could be given in the form of community service.
Lastly, like Western countries, we need to instil in our teens a work ethic. Never mind how rich your parents are, you must earn a portion of your pocket money. Whether that means flipping burgers at McDonalds or becoming a shop girl at a local boutique.
Leave aside the kids slogging for competitive exams, enrolled in intense courses like medicine or immersed in extra-curriculars. For the rest - who comprise the majority - 'studies' and 'attendance' won't be affected by working. Most study in the last one month and don't attend anyways.
I'm not saying this will be a solution to adolescence itself - that's always a rocky phase. But there are merits to instilling a work ethic. As opposed to hearing a statement like, 'My mom is my ATM'.
Understanding the value of money is the best gift any parent can give. Perhaps the most difficult but most necessary one for a well-to-do Indian parent.